The Downriver area of Michigan is about to join one of the nation's elite junior hockey leagues, and a man with local ties will be behind the bench when the first puck drops.
Belleville, Mich., resident Matt Romaniski is the head coach and general manager of the Motor City Machine, which will play out of the Ice Box in Brownstown.
Last season as head coach and general manager of the North American Hockey League's Southern Minnesota Express, he was chosen as an assistant coach of the Central Division team at the league's Top Prospects Tournament.
Just like the man dictating shifts, the team will have a heavy local presence.
"We carry 25 guys on the team," he said. "I want to carry between 10-12 from Michigan. There could be kids from Sweden, Germany and Canada."
The players are not paid to play, but receive all their equipment, ice time and room and board, if needed. This allows them to play while retaining NCAA eligibility.
Romaniski has been living in Belleville for the last 10 years. He has playing experience at the junior, college and professional levels and has parlayed that into a coaching career in Michigan for the past nine years at the Midget AAA and AA levels.
Romaniski, a graduate of Eastern Michigan University, also owns and operates a training school in the summer that has helped develop players at some of the top Division I universities in the country.
"Hockey is huge in Michigan," he added. "I think it has the largest number of people playing hockey in any state. It is huge here."
Playing out of Brownstown, he said, should be a perfect fit.
"The Downriver community loves ice hockey," he said. "It is a great environment to see a true arena."
The Ice Box is set to undergo $1 million to $1.5 million in renovations.
"It will have a new facelift," Romaniski said. "People can come see a game for $8 and get a beer for $2."
He hopes to have as many players as possible make the jump from his team to Division I college programs.
Romaniski led the Team Michigan program in Detroit for three years. In that time, it developed 28 Division I players and more than 50 United States Hockey League and NAHL players.
His summer training program includes many professional, collegiate, junior and aspiring players.
Romaniski said his emphasis always has been to develop the athlete. An avid boxing participant and coach, he spent time on the NBC program "The Contender" as a coach.
The team will be hosting minicamps and tryouts next month. The club also is looking for sponsors and host families for players who are not from the area.
In addition to their time on the ice, players will go to school and work part time. Host families are paid $300 a month.